November 25, 2009

McDonald's and the Berlin Wall

By David Paulin

The Berlin Wall fell 20 years ago, and among those credited with paving the way for that spellbinding event were Ronald Reagan and to a lesser extent Soviet reformer Mikhail Gorbachev. Yet recent media accounts largely overlooked the role that another major player had in helping to bring down the Wall and rebuild a ravaged economy.

It was McDonald's: the all-American restaurant chain with its iconic golden arches – the global food retailer that leftist elites love to hate.

Twenty years ago this week – days after the Berlin Wall fell on Monday, Nov. 9, 1989 – a McDonald's in the sleepy West Germany town of Hof served as a beacon of American-style freedom to thousands of celebrating East Germans – a fact touched upon in a recent Wall Street
article: "As Wall Crumbled, Berliners Rebuilt Their Lives."

To those new customers, the golden arches were what the paper called a "siren of capitalism's long-forbidden fruits.” They'd seen television ads from West Germany, it noted, and so they “were familiar with McDonald's and other images of tantalizing Western products just out of reach.”

"We were overrun," recalled Klaus Rader, McDonald's 26-year-old owner at the time.” Within hours, he'd sold out of hamburgers and fries.

However, it wasn't just Big Macs and fries that were in big demand, because as the Journal noted: “Once the border was open, eastern Germans' consumption of iconic Western brands went into overdrive.”

Rader, for his part, wondered what dizzying profits awaited him if he opened a McDonald's in the former East Germany.

On a certain visceral level, all those wide-eyed East Germans flocking to McDonald's had no doubt learned an important lesson under communism: political and economic freedom are inextricably
bound together.

Who were those wide-eyed East Germans heading straight to McDonald's? Not surprisingly, the Journal noted they were “ordinary” folks. And presumably, there were no smiling communist elites among them – and nor any of their cheerleaders and secret admirers in the West.
Today, McDonald's is more popular than ever overseas: sales have been strong over the years in Europe, Asia, and even the Middle East. And at home and abroad, McDonald's loyal customers are the same “ordinary” folks who mobbed Klaus Rider's McDonald's in Hof.

Yet curiously, a striking perception gap exists in respect to McDonald's and the public. It's loyal and ordinary customers enjoy its fast service, clean facilities, and cheerful employees serving all-American meals. On the other hand, there are those high-minded McDonald's haters: Leftist elites in American and abroad. It's not just the food they dislike, though. To them, McDonald's symbolizes all that's wrong with American-style capitalism.

They haughtily disparage McDonald's as a soulless purveyor of homogenized tastes, bland food, and assembly-line production. It's also an example of America's “economic imperialism,” they say. That critique, however, ignores one of McDonald's
bragging rights -- more than 75 percent of its overseas restaurants are owned and operated by independent franchises, local men and women.

For the rest of the article, go to
The American Thinker.